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Friday, March 4, 2011

Review: Dutchman

 Craig Thomas and Stephanie Breton (photo credit: Jaclyn Turner)

Not Wagner's Dutchman
Dutchman’s short length makes its ending even more of a shocker
by Valerie Cardinal

After the end of Dutchman, no one in the audience moved to get out of their seats; they were too busy contemplating what they had just seen. Everyone, including me, was turning to their companions and asking them what they thought about the play. The reaction was so strong that director Tyrone Benskin announced an impromptu talk-back to answer the audience’s many questions. Before its short run at TSC, Benskin toured his Dutchman through Montreal’s high schools, and it’s evident that the students aren’t the only ones who want to talk about it. 

Dutchman’s tension remains relevant now, even though it was written over 50 years ago by Amiri Baraka. Craig Thomas stars as Clay Williams, a middle-class black man, who is a scholar and a poet. Stephanie Breton is Lula, the dangerously unstable seductress who confronts Clay in a metro car, accusing him of trying to be a white man. Though Benskin has played around with Dutchman, it remains set in the Civil Rights-era tension of 1960s New York. 
Dutchman is a piece of well-timed, well-paced tension worth seeing...

The title of Baraki’s play refers to the mythical doomed ghost ship that can never stop sailing the ocean; in this case, the Flying Dutchman wandering the "sea" is the red dress-wearing, apple-eating Lula. Breton oozes sex as the deadly temptress whose moods shift at the drop of a hat and who seems to take pleasure in pushing Clay’s buttons. Thomas hits the audience with an unexpected blast of fury, leaving them reeling in fear while leaning in to catch every word. The confined local of the metro car keeps the tension high, as Clay and Lula wander between the benches. Dutchman’s short length makes its ending even more of a shocker. 

Because issues of racism in modern Montreal are still up for debate, Baraka’s writing and strong acting make Benskin’s production of Dutchman a piece of well-timed, well-paced tension worth seeing.

Run time – 45 minutes

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